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Wednesday, April 1, 2020
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One-off payments made to vulnerable Caymanians

Government’s promised one-off payments to Cayman’s vulnerable groups have been delivered, Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed Tuesday.

The payments were made on 27 March, he said.

“We have extended approval for continuing assistance to all existing (Needs Assessment Unit) clients from three to six months,” McLaughlin said, as he updated the public at government’s COVID-19 media briefing.

He said the NAU, which is under his Community Affairs ministry, paid the additional $425 stipend to those on permanent financial assistance, as well as to seamen and veterans.

“We are currently providing services and assistance to 1,653 families, consisting of food vouchers, rent, utilities and permanent financial assistance. Of the families being served, some 60% are elderly,” he said.

In addition, the NAU is processing 81 new applications for families in need of assistance, McLaughlin said.

This is in addition to the nearly $3 million already approved by Cabinet “to assist the most vulnerable, elderly and disabled Caymanians”, he said.

The premier had previously noted he was expecting an increase in applications following the collapse of the tourism industry after the closing of Cayman’s borders.

Help for tourism workers

Speaking at the press briefing, McLaughlin also announced that those affected work-permit holders within the tourism industry will now have access to a $150 food voucher.

However, he said, anyone applying for assistance will undergo an assessment and the help would only be available to work-permit holders “who urgently require food supplies and who have insufficient income or savings to sustain themselves”.

Applications for the food voucher will be accepted starting Wednesday, 1 April for “review and approval”.

“Vouchers will provide interim support over a two-week period to those who qualify until the airport reopens and/or all they are able to resume their jobs,” McLaughlin said.

Although government is assisting in this regard, the premier appealed to employers to do their part.

“We encourage employers to continue to assist their employees in so far as that is possible,” he said.

Food assistance

According to a Government Information Services statement, “emergency supplementary funding, recently approved by Cabinet, will provide temporary food assistance to non-Caymanians who qualify and are unable to leave the Cayman Islands or who find themselves out of work due to the impact of COVID-19”.

Those who qualify can apply by downloading the Non-Caymanian COVID-19 Support application form.

Alternatively, forms can be collected from various supermarkets and gas stations in Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. Completed forms should be emailed to [email protected] or left in the drop box outside the Customs and Border Control Office (formerly Immigration headquarters) on Elgin Avenue.

McLaughlin has encouraged everyone in the community to continue to support one another, Caymanian and non-Caymanian alike.

He said government will ensure that those impacted by the COVID-19 closures are assisted.

Out-of-work expats should return home

However, for work-permit holders who no longer have jobs, “if the opportunity affords [them] to leave, [they] should leave. They should return to their home. But, in the interim, if they do not have a job, I have said more than once the government will do whatever it can to ensure they have a roof over their head, they have food to eat and access to healthcare,” he said.

Tackling the issue of comments and social media audio notes singling out work-permit holders, aimed at driving them out of Cayman, McLaughlin said, “I have said more than once we are all human beings.”

He added, “Unfortunately, all human beings are subject to prejudices and biases, that is why we have rules and laws in place. If I am not prejudiced against you because of your colour and your ethnicity, I am prejudiced against you because of your religion, or your gender; that’s how human beings are.

“But in times like these, in particular, we need to do everything we can to help each other … In Cayman, it is a community crisis and we are only going to get through it if we all work together, live together and try to help each other.”

The premier has also appealed on several occasions to residential landlords to be understanding and flexible with their tenants.

The GIS statement also suggested landlords use security deposits in lieu of rent if necessary.

In addition, McLaughlin said that a new hotline is being established for the elderly to address their concerns and queries.

Those seeking further information and guidance on the NAU process can call 244-8000 between 10am and 4pm (Mondays to Fridays).

$250M Airbnb fund to help hosts with COVID-19 cancellations

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Online vacation-rental broker Airbnb is dedicating $250 million to cover some of the losses property owners incurred as a result of cancellations amid the global coronavirus crisis.

Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky has apologised to property owners for the way his company communicated its decision to offer full refunds to travellers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Airbnb amended its extenuating-circumstances policy to offer refunds or travel credit to every booking made before 14 March for reservations beginning any time before 31 May.

This overrode the personal cancellation policies of individual hosts, delivering a severe economic blow to property owners using the short-term rental service.

In a letter to hosts, Chesky said the decision was made to protect public health.

He wrote, “If we allowed guests to cancel and receive a refund, we knew it could have significant consequences on your livelihood. But, we couldn’t have guests and hosts feel pressured to put themselves into unsafe situations and create an additional public health hazard.”

Huge losses

Michael Skiles, CEO and co-founder of HostGPO, which represents vacation-rental operators, said Airbnb’s decision was “a disaster” for hosts.

In an interview with USA Today earlier in March, he said, “Spring is when many hosts count on earning enough to support themselves through slower months, but now we have hosts who are reporting huge losses of up to 80% of their monthly revenue and who are struggling to keep their homes. Many have started to lay off employees and cleaning teams, with no other options.”

Skiles said, “Since Airbnb has given away so much of hosts’ money without their consent and hosts are struggling, I hope they’ll do something substantial to share in the costs that, so far, hosts have borne alone.”

In his message, Chesky said offering full refunds was still the right decision. But he apologised for communicating it to guests without consulting hosts first. “We have heard from you and we know we could have been better partners,” he said.

‘Generous’ payment appreciated

To help hosts cover some of the cost of COVID-19 cancellations, Airbnb is setting up a $250 million fund.

It will retroactively pay hosts 25% of what they would normally receive through their cancellation policies. Payments will begin in April.

Terry Delaney, who manages his own Cayman property and another part-time property on Airbnb, said he received news of the “generous” fund “with massive relief and appreciation”.

His properties were fully booked until everybody cancelled through to mid-May. Delaney said even before Airbnb had changed its extenuating-circumstances policy, he told prospective visitors that he had no intention of taking money from anyone who had no control over the situation. “I have to bite the bullet.”

At the same time, Delaney said, he will have no choice but to make use of Airbnb’s offer, because short-term rental revenue is more than a casual side income. Others would also benefit. “This is going to help society, not just individuals,” he said, adding that he intends to pay the cleaners, who normally clean after a group leaves, half of what they would have received under full bookings.

Additional funds help offset rent, mortgage

Airbnb is also creating a $10 million Superhost Relief Fund.

“This is designed for Superhosts who rent out their own home and need help paying their rent or mortgage, plus long-tenured Experience hosts trying to make ends meet,” the Airbnb CEO said.

The superhost fund was started with $1 million in employee donations and topped up to $10 million by the Airbnb founders.

In April, hosts will be able to apply for grants of up to $5,000 that do not have to be paid back.

The vacation-rental service is further creating a way for guests, who want to help, to make a financial contribution to any of the hosts they have previously stayed with.

The US government’s COVID-19 Stimulus Bill will allow US-based holiday rental-property owners to apply for small business grants, small business loans and unemployment assistance.

Chesky announced additional initiatives for the coming weeks, including programmes to drive demand to help rebuild short-term rental businesses.

Cayman embraces homemade face masks

A mask-making movement has started in Cayman, adopting a global trend aimed at reducing the spread of infectious disease.

While there is still limited availability of surgical and professional masks in Cayman, homemade wares can provide an alternative. The Cayman Islands Red Cross is calling on seamstresses to assist in sewing a local supply and #CayMask is driving an online community around DIY mask-making.

Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee recognised the utility of widespread mask adoption during Monday’s government press conference. Public health agencies had previously advised against the use of face masks by healthy individuals, driven in large part by supply constraints for single-use medical items, Lee explained.

“Although wearing a face mask does not protect yourself, it actually protects the person that you might come up against by protecting any droplets from you from going that way,” Lee said.

Face masks will absorb any droplets that come in their direction, but they also prevent droplets from going out and spreading to others. Essentially, wearing a face mask during a time of pandemic is a gesture to protect your neighbour.

“In Hong Kong, in China and in Japan, especially because of the SARS epidemic, there it became the norm for people to wear masks whenever there was the threat of an infectious disease, such as this virus that we’re now facing,” Lee said. “There is no doubt that if everybody was to wear masks, then it would protect the community more.”

That doesn’t mean everyone should rush out and purchase disposable masks, however.

Lee warned that medical face masks, like N95 masks, should be reserved for frontline medical staff, who rely on disposable masks to minimise their risk of infection. Currently, Cayman has 3,500 N95 masks available and 300,000 on order, according to numbers provided by Health Minister Dwayne Seymour Monday. There are an additional 106,000 surgical masks in stock in Cayman and 83,000 on order.

Seymour on Tuesday hinted at the possibility of panic shopping for face masks, given the updated advice encouraging their use.

“I know there’s going to be a mask frenzy,” he said, adding, “in my personal opinion, I think masks are the way to go.”

The minister said government is working on securing a supply of masks that could be distributed to the community.

In response to the anticipated demand, Massive Media launched the #CayMask campaign, providing tips and instructions online for crafting masks at home.

“We really hope people will help each other with this initiative. There are elderly isolated and other vulnerable groups who will need masks to be made for them, and people can use the CayMask Facebook group to help connect the makers with those people,” said Massive Media’s Rich Dyer in a press statement.

The website, www.caymask.com, includes links to videos, instructions and hygiene tips for using face masks. “My mask is protecting you. Your mask is protecting me,” it says.

The World Health Organization advises that face masks are only effective when users wash their hands properly and practise good hygiene.

“Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water,” the World Health Organization advises on its website.

“Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.”

A single-use mask should never be reused and should be disposed of in a trash bin.

When removing a mask, remove it from behind and do not touch the front. Immediately discard it in a closed bin and then clean hands with soap and water.

For reusable masks, CayMask advises users to wash them at a high temperature, use a heated clothes’ dryer, and iron after each use. If a mask gets wet, remove and replace it.

To contact the Red Cross about its mask campaign, contact 925-2251, 916-4932 or 546-9065. The email contact is [email protected].

Government explores COVID-19 support from Cuba and South Korea

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The Cayman Islands government has reached out to Cuba and South Korea in a bid to improve medical capacity as it looks beyond the UK for support in the fight against coronavirus.

Public Health England has already assisted by providing a laboratory specialist and other medical professionals for training and technical advice. In addition, an air bridge from the UK promises to establish a secure flow of supplies from London.

However, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said on Monday the Cayman Islands government is also working to connect with Cuba about supplying medical staff.

“Cuba is one of the places that we have found interesting in sourcing doctors [and nurses] from,” Seymour said.

“We have actually contacted the Cuban ambassador of Jamaica and they put us on to some of the contacts, so the discussion is going on,” he added.

Cuba has already supplied doctors to Italy, Belize, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Dominica to help fight COVID-19.

Governor Martyn Roper said he has also been in contact with the British Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, regarding testing equipment.

“All of us are heavily engaged behind the scenes now in trying to get us into a much better position on testing, and indeed in the last couple of days we have been pursuing an avenue through South Korea,” the governor said on Monday.

He said a company had been identified that appeared promising in its ability to supply large quantities of testing equipment and materials.

Hundreds use COVID-19 online assessment

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Some 800 people used the government’s digital coronavirus self-assessment tool during its first night online on Monday.

The tool, available at gov.ky/coronavirus, can help members of the public determine if they need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.

The self-assessment tool can serve as an alternative to calling the flu hotline, which has experienced high demand in recent weeks, according to officials.

Individuals who complete the assessment and are determined to be displaying coronavirus symptoms will be asked to call the flu hotline at 1-800-534-8600, 947-3077 or 925-6327 for follow-up.

The assessment takes less than five minutes to complete. It will ask about symptoms and suggest if further medical attention is required.

Most people do not need to be tested for COVID-19 because it will not change your care. Anyone who has symptoms – including a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing – should self-isolate for 14 days,” the assessment page reads.

Police ask for help in locating missing teen

Police are trying to locate a 15-year-old boy, Jared Johnson, who has been missing since Wednesday, 25 March.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service said officers received the missing person report on Monday, 30 March.

He was last seen wearing a red shirt and red sports trousers. He is about 5 feet, 2 inches tall, of stocky build, with low cut black hair, brown eyes, and of light brown complexion.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts can call the Bodden Town Police Station at 947-2220. Anonymous tips can be provided directly to the RCIPS via our Confidential Tip Line at 949-7777, or via the police website. Tips can also be submitted anonymously via the Miami-based call centre of Crime Stoppers at 800-8477(TIPS), or online.

Two new coronavirus cases, community spread confirmed

Public health officials have confirmed two new cases of coronavirus with no links to overseas travel.

Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, said the two incidents meant that Cayman now had community transmission of the virus.

“We should accept this condition is in our community and I do implore everybody to please stay home,” he said.

He warned that anyone who had to go out should follow strict guidelines on social distancing and should protect themselves as much as possible.

He said people needed to steer clear of each other and, particularly, of older relatives who are especially vulnerable.

“Show your love from a distance,” he said.

Photos: Alvaro Serey

As of Tuesday afternoon, Cayman had a total of 14 reported positive cases, 205 people who had tested negative, and one inconclusive result that is still being investigated.

To anyone afraid of catching the virus, Lee said, they had to steer clear of each other and “see yourself as an island”.

He reiterated the core message of all government’s measures – “Please, stay at home.”

Patients who have tested positive are either better or have been isolated at home, he said. Public health has been doing extensive tracking and contact tracing on the new cases to test and isolate those who had been in contact with them.

No change to current restrictions

Premier Alden McLaughlin said the news of the two community-transmission cases did not change government’s game plan. He urged people to just follow the measures in place and “stay home” unless absolutely necessary.

“There are not many more things the government can do, short of going to a total lockdown, which is, quite frankly, impractical,” he said.

He said the restrictions could be in place internally for six weeks to two months, and had to be flexible enough to allow people to live.

“The measures we have in place are exactly what we need to have in place,” he said.

“We have said from the start, we need to behave as though the virus is among us. If people comply with what is in place, there will be no need for further lockdown.

“Stay home as much as you possibly can, use social distancing when you have to go out. That is all you have to do.”

BA flight

The premier added he had heard significant concerns about the British Airways flight that will be coming into the island early next week and the potential for a new introduction of the virus to Cayman.

Anyone who comes back to the island on that flight will be put into mandatory isolation “in a place outside their home and under strict monitoring from the government”, he said.

“They will be locked away for 14 days,” he added.

He acknowledged life was going to get tougher for people in the tourism industry particularly and that hundreds more people may lose their jobs and wish to leave Cayman. He said they should try to get on the BA flight. For people from the region, Cayman Airways flights could be put on to help them get home where possible.

McLaughlin added that Cayman had put in extra measures to assist those impacted, including expats who are temporarily out of work. He said government was currently providing support to 1,653 families with food vouchers, rent and financial assistance, with 81 applications being processed.

Residents generally abiding by nightly curfew

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said there continued to be good compliance with the nightly hard curfew. He said there had been five people warned for breach of curfew overnight in Grand Cayman, including two people arrested for driving under the influence. Three people were warned for breach of curfew up to 2pm Tuesday.

He said police were concerned that too many people were still on the roads and his officers would be getting tougher on violators.

“The news today [of two new coronavirus cases] does step it up a little for us; we are four days in now and we will have to do a bit more enforcement,” the commissioner said.

The Cayman Islands is operating under a fluctuating soft and hard curfew.

‘Shelter in place’ regulations were passed Saturday, allowing a select few essential businesses, including supermarkets, pharmacies and healthcare facilities, to operate in the daylight hours. Those regulations also allow limited movement for residents to visit the supermarkets or exercise for 90 minutes.

A near total lockdown remains in place from 7pm until 5am daily, with all but the most essential workers confined to their homes.

Residents have been divided alphabetically and allocated days when they are allowed to shop or visit the bank.

The islands’ borders have been closed since 22 March, and it is hoped that if Cayman can limit the local transmission of COVID-19, it can prevent any loss of life for its inhabitants.

The curfews and restrictions on movement will be in place until next Tuesday, 7 April, at least, and could be renewed after that. If the infection rate remains low, it is possible that the island could reopen for business internally.

The borders are likely to remain shut for the foreseeable future, however. With the COVID-19 crisis escalating in the US, any easing of flight restrictions could risk the reintroduction of the virus to the Cayman Islands.

  • With reporting by Reshma Ragoonath

Mandatory isolation units for returnees

Anyone who returns to the Cayman Islands on the emergency British Airways flight next week will be confined for 14 days in a government-monitored isolation unit.

Premier Alden McLaughlin urged people to stop panicking about the incoming flight from London, saying Cayman residents had more chance of contracting COVID-19 at the supermarket than from the returnees being kept in strict isolation.

His comments came amid widespread community anxiety over plans to repatriate Caymanians stranded in the UK. 

McLaughlin cited concerns that the flight could cause a reintroduction of the virus to the islands and said that was not a great threat, given the measures government was putting in place.

Those people will be put into mandatory isolation “in a place outside their home and under strict monitoring from the government”, he said.

“They will be locked away for 14 days,” the premier emphasised.

McLaughlin said the main purpose of next week’s BA flight was to bring in much-needed medical supplies and to evacuate work permit holders who had lost their jobs.

“There are a significant number of people that now want to leave and we are encouraging them to leave because the less people there are here, the easier it becomes to manage this crisis,” he added.

But he said the island had a responsibility to bring its people home.

And he insisted they presented no special threat to the community.

With community transmission of COVID-19 now confirmed, he said there was more risk from residents who failed to follow the curfew and shelter-in-place regulations.

“Given what Dr. Lee has said today, that we are now absolutely certain there is community transmission, there is far greater risk of you contracting COVID-19 in Cayman from going to the supermarket or to the bank than from people who are being mandatorily quarantined for 14 days,” he said.

“They pose far less risk to this community than individuals who move about freely, not practising social distancing and hanging together in groups.”

Governor Martyn Roper backed the stance and said there were people who needed to return home to Cayman for compassionate reasons.

“The small number that do come back will be very effectively supervised,” he said.

“The UK has spent 75 million pounds chartering aircraft to bring its nationals back to the UK; we should be able to bring 20-30 people who urgently need to come home to Cayman,” the governor added.

The flight will arrive in Cayman via Bermuda on Monday or Tuesday next week. It will return to London via the Bahamas.

Scotiabank updates customer assistance programme

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Scotiabank has announced updates to its customer assistance programme for retail and business account holders.

The bank’s retail customers with mortgages or business banking customers who want to defer loan payments should contact Scotiabank to participate in the programme. Payments will not be deferred automatically, the bank said in a press release.

Participants in the programme can have their loan payments deferred for up to six months, as the first period of three months can be extended by a further three months.

Scotiabank retail customers with credit cards, revolving credit lines and other term loans and auto loans, as well as business customers with only credit cards, will have their payments automatically deferred for up to six months. Again, the deferment will cover an initial period of three months with the possibility of extending another three months, the bank said.

Interest on the loans will continue to accrue, along with loan insurance premiums that are due, which will be payable at a later point in the loan’s cycle.

Customers wishing to continue to make payments can do so by calling Scotiabank.

“We understand that customers will need flexibility as this situation continues to evolve. We are confident that our updates to the (customer assistance programme) will allow customers to make the best decision based on their personal circumstances,” said Dwight Burrows, manager director for Scotiabank & Trust (Cayman), in the release.

Customers who want to participate in the customer assistance programme, those wishing to continue to make credit card and loan payments, and customers who want to discuss their eligibility for refinancing or consolidating their debt can call Scotiabank at 949-0785.

Cayman Enterprise City announces remote mentorship

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Cayman Enterprise City’s ‘Summer in the City’ internship programme is offering remote placements and online mentorships in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The programme, in its eighth year, aims to connect local talent with special economic zone community members.

“Innovation thrives during difficult times and we have stepped up to the challenge that the COVID-19 outbreak currently presents by offering dynamic opportunities, like remote mentorship placements and online workshops,” said CEC’s chief executive officer, Charlie Kirkconnell, in a press release.

“Digital careers offer a wide range of options, are naturally flexible, and are intrinsically in constant evolution. We’re thrilled to be able to offer new, exciting, and meaningful opportunities within Cayman’s growing tech sector,” he added.

Remote mentorships range from a one-on-one virtual ‘pep-talk’ session to six-month recurring online meetings with industry professionals.

The zone has entrepreneurs representing a range of industries, including digital marketing, medial technology, global business development, software development, engineering, and commodities and derivatives trading.

The ‘Summer in the City’ programme is open to Caymanians and residents of the Cayman Islands between the ages of 18 and 25. During virtual workshops and meeting sessions, mentees can expect to receive practical advice, encouragement, insights into various digital industries, CV support, and guidance when it comes to applying for job opportunities, the release stated.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2020 Enterprise Cayman ‘Summer in the City’ programme, with the application deadline extended to Sunday, 5 April 2020.

For more information on the programme and to apply online, visit www.enterprisecayman.ky or email [email protected]

Chamber webinar to guide employers on redundancies

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As employers across the Cayman Islands grapple to cope with the business downturn  brought on by COVID-19, the Chamber of Commerce will be facilitating a series of webinars to disseminate business information and guidance to both members and non-members.

The first free webinar, hosted in partnership with HSM, will take place Wednesday, 1 April, from 9am to 11am. The session aims to help employers deal with “the difficult but necessary issues of redundancies, lay-offs and work permit termination or suspension, in a legal and sensitive manner”, the Chamber said in a press release.

Wil Pineau

“The Chamber is here to help local business navigate these trying times as best they can, by providing relevant information and resources in a variety of formats,” Chamber CEO Wil Pineau said.

“This is the first of a series of webinars that we hope will provide timely and practical information. I encourage employers to monitor the Chamber’s social media channels for details of future webinars and other available resources.”

The webinar will allow employers to meet online with a specialised panel of lawyers. The two-hour interactive meeting will take the form of presentations followed by question-and-answer sessions.

The presenters will provide information to help employers make the right decisions, utilising best practices, where considerations of business survival and continuity force them to turn to Labour Law provisions for redundancies, lay-offs and termination or suspension of work permits, the Chamber stated.

Facilitating the presentations will be Huw Moses, managing partner, and Nick Joseph, partner, at HSM. Employment attorney Hilary Brooks and immigration attorney Alastair David will also participate.

All employers who want to take part in the webinar are required to pre-register using the link below. The link will take employers to the Chamber registration page where they will be provided with technical instructions for attending Wednesday’s session.

Participation will be limited to 100 attendees, and so interested employers are being encouraged to register early.

Landfill fire prompts battery-dumping warning

Department of Environmental Health Director Richard Simms has warned the public against disposing of vehicle batteries with the regular waste following what he described as a “small” fire at the George Town landfill Monday afternoon.

According to a Department of Environmental Health statement, the fire broke out at the landfill around 2:30pm.

The incident was caused when a vehicle ran over a vehicle battery that had been tipped in the regular waste, causing the battery to burst, he said.

The fire was quickly extinguished by DEH staff, but the Cayman Islands Fire Service was called out of caution.

“These should always be dropped off at our 24-hour drop at the landfill in the designated areas for batteries. Mixed in with the general waste, they increase the already existing risk of combustion,” Simms said.

This fire follows a major fire at the dump earlier this month which burned for almost a week. In that fire, high winds escalated a deep-seated fire and created an inferno at the dump, which prompted evacuations of nearby communities and schools and business closures.

Police arrest wanted man

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Police arrested Manuel Carter on Saturday, about whom they issued a public alert last week.

Just after 2:45am Saturday, officers on patrol in West Bay responded to a report of Carter allegedly threatening a man with a machete at a restaurant on North West Point Road.

Officers later located and arrested Carter at a West Bay address.

“Following his arrest for the incidents on North West Point Road, Carter was arrested on suspicion of several burglaries that had taken place in the West Bay area during the month of March,” police said in a statement.

Carter was also arrested on suspicion of escaping lawful custody and assaulting police, following an incident that took place on 23 March, where he was located by an officer on patrol, who attempted to arrest him.

Twelve charges have been laid against Carter, including two counts of burglary, attempted burglary, two counts of possession of an offensive weapon, resisting arrest, escaping lawful custody, assaulting police, two counts of causing fear or provocation of violence, handling stolen property, and breach of curfew.

He appeared in court Monday, via video link, and was remanded into custody.

Local artistes join #StayhomeCayman call

A team of local musicians has come together to record the national song ‘Beloved Isle Cayman’ in an effort to spread government’s call for all residents to stay home.

The aim of the video is to encourage the community to flatten the curve on COVID-19 by staying away from public spaces.

The effort has been organised by Derri Dacres-Lee, former secretary of the Cayman Islands Music Association board and current chairperson for the Miss Cayman Islands Universe Committee.

Speaking with the Cayman Compass Monday, Dacres-Lee said she was inspired to help spread the word for Cayman to stay home after seeing the efforts of Premier Alden McLaughlin and the government.

“I felt like this is the time to build the community spirit and for everyone to come together to continue to show the love and support for each other, and there is no better way to do it sometimes than through music,” she said.

Dacres-Lee explained she contacted local artistes, including Brent McLean, Danny Loops and Vashti Bodden, and had them sing the national song individually in their homes and put it all together in one video.

The video is now making the rounds on local media, and was played Monday at the end of the government’s daily televised coronavirus media briefing on CIGTV and on its YouTube channel.

“We just want to say stay safe, Cayman, and continue to show the love and stay home. ‘Stay home, Cayman’ – that’s the message we are trying to send primarily. We also want to support the premier and the Cayman Islands government,” she said.

Dacres-Lee thanked Mona Lisa Meade and Bodden for assisting in the production of the video.

McLaughlin has continuously stressed the need for residents to stay home.

Cayman is currently under a soft curfew during daylight hours, which allows limited movement, for 90 minutes of exercise and trips to the supermarket, gas station or pharmacy.

From 7pm to 5am, the community is on full lockdown. During this time, no movement is allowed except for essential workers who have permission to traverse the roads in the line of duty only.

Full coverage: Coronavirus

More than 12,500 left Cayman as border slammed shut

LIVE: For the latest updates on the coronavirus, follow our live blog.

More than 12,500 people left the Cayman Islands in the last week before the airport closure – a net loss of more than 8,000 people.

That includes a mix of tourists whose vacations were cut short and residents who decided to pack up and leave as the economic reality of the coronavirus crisis started to become clear.

Just over 4,000 people, mostly returning residents and students, arrived back on island in the same time period. This means that these 4,000 people should, by law, be in isolation, either in government facilities or at home along with their families. 

The statistics, released by the Ministry of Employment and Border Control in response to a request from the Cayman Compass, show the extent of the exodus before Cayman’s borders slammed shut on 22 March.

Passenger check in for the final flights out of Cayman on Sunday
Passenger check in for the final flights out of Cayman on Sunday, 22 March. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

The biggest exit day was Saturday, 21 March, when 2,329 people departed the island.

It is still not clear exactly how many residents left the island because of lost jobs in hotels and restaurants and other impacted businesses. 

At a press conference last week, Premier Alden McLaughlin estimated that Cayman’s population may have dropped by as much as 6,000 as a consequence of the coronavirus crisis.

Asked about the current population figure, he said, “I think the number is somewhere around 64,000. It was very close to 70,000 before all of this started.”

While many in the tourism industry have lost jobs, a significant number of employers have continued to pay their staff despite closing their doors.

How long that will continue, with no imminent prospect of the borders being reopened, is a concerning question for many business owners and their employees.

Some who decided not to leave before the airport closure may be reconsidering that decision now, with the crisis escalating daily.

Chris Kirkconnell, of Kirk Freeport, said only a handful of his staff had left the island despite eight stores closing and generous repatriation packages being offered to work permit holders.

But as Cayman moved from partial closure to total shutdown and the longevity of the crisis became clear, he said, some were reconsidering that decision.

He believes the same is true across the tourism industry.

“I think there probably will be more people that do look to leave once the airports open up again,” he said.

“Several people were considering it but couldn’t get on a flight or couldn’t get through the right airport to get home.”

A British Airways flight is being arranged next week to allow people who need to get to the UK to leave Cayman.

Kirkconnell believes there may need to be further flights if the border remains closed for some time. He said it would be impossible to open up to the US with the virus still spreading.

“I think some people initially chose to stay and once they saw that everything was shutting down and that this could last a while, people are looking for other options,” he said.

Up to now, Kirk Freeport has not had to lay anyone off. 

Multiple other businesses have let staff go and some are considering how long they can afford to pay salaries without revenue coming in.

Woody Foster, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said Cayman’s economy was likely to be hurting for a very long time.

He said it was unclear at the moment exactly how many people had lost jobs or chosen to leave the island, but he said tourism businesses would not be able to keep full employment for an extended period of closure.

“The entire tourist market has gone,” he said, “so for all intents and purposes, they have no money coming in, yet they are paying full salaries, healthcare and pension. Everybody is doing everything they can to support their staff, but that won’t be able to continue indefinitely.”

Full coverage: Coronavirus

Banks adopt alphabetical service system

With large lines appearing at Cayman’s retail banks, which have reduced opening hours and temporarily closed some branches as part of government’s lockdown measures, the banks from today (Tuesday) are adopting the same alphabetical system in use at local supermarkets.

:Long lines at supermarkets and banks have prompted a new alphabetical system for dealing with customers to be put in place.
Long lines at supermarkets and banks have prompted a new alphabetical system for dealing with customers to be put in place. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

Last week, the member banks of the Cayman Islands Bankers Association announced that only one branch per bank would be open to the public, and that operating hours were changing to 9am to 1pm, Mondays through Fridays, until further notice. Priority will be given to seniors and those considered vulnerable.

Banks opening during these times are Cayman National’s branches at Camana Bay, on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman; Scotiabank at Camana Bay; Fidelity Bank on Dr. Roy’s Drive; Butterfield’s branch at Butterfield Place; CIBC FirstCaribbean on Main Street; and RBC Royal Bank on Shedden Road.

All other branches are closed.

At Monday’s daily COVID-10 briefing, Premier Alden McLaughlin said banks had contacted him to request that they be allowed to implement a similar system to supermarkets, whereby customers are served on certain days depending on the letter their surnames begin with.

Anyone with the surname starting with A-K can go to their bank Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for those with surnames L-Z. Friday is open to all customers.

The Credit Union, in a statement, said it would also be implementing the new alphabetical system, from Wednesday, 1 April, when members will be able to visit the Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac branches on certain days based on surnames.

The Credit Union hours of operation are Monday-Friday, 9am to 1pm, with 9-10am designated for the elderly and immune-compromised only.

Banks will serve customers in accordance with social distancing guidelines within the banking hall and staff operating environment, CIBA said.

The banks are encouraging customers to use electronic banking services through online banking and at cash points wherever possible and only use branches if electronic and ATM channels are not available.

 

Police note spike in domestic violence

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Domestic violence reports have started to increase as Cayman continues its lockdown in response to COVID-19.

Police Commissioner Derek Byrne, speaking at Monday’s coronavirus briefing, said his team has noted a “spike” in reports.

He said on Sunday night there were seven incidents of domestic violence, two of which were recorded as alcohol-related.

“We’ve dealt with them. It is a small spike one night over the past two weeks, so we’re going to keep a very careful eye on that for individuals who might be in an unsafe home situation,” Byrne said.

With Cayman in lockdown, seeking safe haven may present a problem for those needing shelter from abusers.

However, both Byrne and Ania Milanowska, executive director of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, have said shelter space is available.

The commissioner said when it comes to the availability of government’s isolation facilities, victims will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

He said cases are reported to the National Emergency Operations Centre, and the Crisis Centre remains open.

“People can report, seek assistance, and it’s dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Those are things we’re watching very, very carefully internally, in terms of child and family protection,” Byrne said.

Milanowska said the Crisis Centre admitted two new clients over the weekend. “Presently, I have four adults and eight children [at the centre],” she said.

In a statement to the Cayman Compass, she said, for most people, homes are the safest places to be during the COVID-19 crisis. However, for survivors of domestic violence, their homes are the most dangerous.

“The isolation, unemployment, financial stress and spending a lot of time under the same roof as the abuser, makes the survivors even more vulnerable,” Milanowska said in the statement. “Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour in a relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Isolation from family and friends is one of the tactics used by the perpetrator.”

This, she said, is why it is very important, especially at this time, to have a safety plan in place.

“Pack a bag with important documents, change of clothes and essential medication. Have our 24/7 crisis line number on speed dial, 943-2422,” she advised. “Ask your family member or a friend to check on you regularly via phone, email, text message, and have a code word ready, so they know that even if you are saying that everything is fine, by using this special word you are asking them for help – they can call 911 for you,” she said.

Safety planning tips

  1. Have an escape plan in mind. How can you leave the house and where would you go if you need to leave to preserve your safety?
  2. Prepare an escape bag with important documents or copies (ID, birth certificate, marriage certificate, passport, immigration documents for you and your children, medical prescriptions), charged cellphone, cash, bank card, clothes, prescribed medication, etc.
  3. Tell a friend or neighbour about the abuse and ask them to call the police if they hear suspicious noises.
  4. Teach your child how to dial 911 in case of emergency and practise with them what to say: what is happening, the address, etc.
  5. Tell your children that if abuse starts, to run to the neighbour’s house and ask for help.
  6. Have a previously agreed code word, signal, sign or emoji with your children and friends that means you need them to call the police.
  7. Minimise confrontation. When you feel the tension building in your household, try to de-escalate it. if an argument starts, move to a room that is safe with an alternative escape route (big window, additional door) – avoid the kitchen and the bathroom.
  8. Make sure your phone is always charged.

If you or someone you know needs help or would like to develop a personalised safety plan, call the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre on their 24/7 crisis line at 943-2422.

In case of emergency call 911.

Full coverage: Coronavirus

Blood bank open for donations

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The Cayman Islands Blood Bank is advising the public that it will remain open for donations and is encouraging members of the public who are eligible to continue to donate blood.

While some healthcare services have been cancelled or reduced to minimise potential transmission of COVID-19, the blood bank remains fully operational at the Cayman Islands Hospital.

“Blood donation is still necessary to ensure we have adequate supply on island for any medical emergencies requiring lifesaving blood transfusion. We are appealing to eligible donors of all blood types to make donations, in particular those who are O Negative. We also want to ensure the public that it is safe to donate blood as COVID-19 is not a blood borne illness,” said Blood Bank Manager Judith Clarke.

“The Blood Bank, which operates out of the Health Services Authority’s JCI Accredited lab, follows the highest standards to ensure donors can give blood in a safe and controlled environment,” she added.

She said the Blood Bank team often conducts blood drives on-site at businesses within the community, but as many businesses are operating remotely, the Blood Bank is missing an opportunity to host these blood drives.

“Some states in the US are also starting to see shortages of blood supplies, so for these reasons we encourage all eligible donors to continue donating during this time,” she added.

The Blood Bank pointed out that one blood donation can help save up to three lives. Men can donate every three months and women every four months.

The Cayman Islands Hospital has heightened measures for people entering the facility, and  blood donors should use the entrance to the left of accident and emergency where a member of security will provide escort to the blood bank. Parking is available in the designated Blood Donor spots outside A&E or in the Seventh Day Adventist Church parking lot.

To find out if you are eligible to donate or to book an appointment to donate blood, call 244-2674. Opening hours are Monday – Friday 7am – 6:30pm and Saturday 9am – 5pm.

This week